Bridgestone/Firestone’s American racing boss Al Speyer has expressed his disappointment to Motor Sport about strong rumours that IndyCar will switch to another tyre supplier in 2015 rather than agreeing to extend its contract to as far as 2020 as Firestone has proposed.
“We’ve heard something has been signed with another tyre company,” Speyer told us. “I don’t know that for a fact, but if that’s the case it really makes it uncertain of where we’re going and may preclude us. But I don’t have all the facts.
“I want to stress that we want to extend our relationship with IndyCar. A couple of years ago we went through a period when we were trying to adjust our investment, but that’s all behind us. Right now, we want to very much continue. Since May of last year we’ve been telling IndyCar that we’d like to extend our relationship, which goes through 2014, through as far as 2020. We wanted to make a long term extension that would give both of us stability.
“But it’s not at all certain that we’ll get an extension. We’re very deeply concerned about that and there may be little more that we can do from our side. It does appear that IndyCar wants to go in another direction for tyres. That’s become clear to us. Even though we thought they wanted to extend with us, all of a sudden we learned that they want to go in a different direction. It’s clear to us the current IndyCar management is not interested in working with us.”
Speyer said Bridgestone/Firestone has confidence that IndyCar can rebuild its flagging crowds and television ratings. “We see upside potential to IndyCar,” Speyer emphasised. “We see some growth possibilities and we don’t want to do anything that devalues that. We want to continue to promote it to make it bigger for ourselves and IndyCar. It’s in our best interests to grow that. The sport has had its ups and downs over history and were hoping it can rise up again. The product is really good and we believe in it.”
Over the years Firestone has developed strong domestic TV and print media advertising campaigns featuring Indy car racing. Speyer said the company has plans to expand on that theme if IndyCar agreed to its proposed contract extension through 2020.
“Firestone has been supporting Indy car racing for a hundred years,” Speyer remarked. “Harvey Firestone was there at the start and over the years Firestone has promoted the sport in the major national media of the times. The history makes it a natural for the Firestone brand. It’s a very good fit for the Firestone brand and we’ve done a lot of marketing and TV advertising. We’ve worked long and hard and poured a ton of blood, sweat and tears and money into the sport and to be told they want to do something else is hard to swallow.
“So it’s a sticky wicket right now. We want to stay. We’ve got certain rights and we want to stay. This new direction caught us by surprise. We had no idea it was coming.”
Speyer said the vast majority of drivers and teams have expressed to him their wish that Bridgestone/Firestone continue on a longterm basis as IndyCar’s tyre supplier. “We believe based on what we continue to hear that the drivers and owners would like to see us stay. There certainly is no undercurrent of people wanting to kick us out. They want us to stay very much. We’ve got the support of the drivers and teams. Even some of the fans are behind us. We don’t feel like we’ve done anything wrong.
“We’re very proud of the relationship we have with 99 per cent of the IndyCar community and the support from the team owners and drivers is just outstanding. They very much support us and want us to continue and that makes it almost doubly hard to swallow. They have been unbelievable in their support of us and we think it’s an earned position.”
Michael Andretti’s team won its fourth IndyCar championship and first with Ryan Hunter-Reay this year. Andretti hopes to field four cars in next year’s IndyCar series plus a fifth car at Indianapolis. Michael said he hopes IndyCar will see the light and extend its agreement with Firestone.
“Firestone has been such a great supporter of IndyCar racing,” Andretti said. “I don’t know all the facts but it sounds like they’re not being treated like the way they should be treated. It’s a little disappointing. The biggest thing with Firestone is you know you have a safe product. Tyres are really important, especially on the superspeedways so it’s not a lottery where you know one or two tyres are going to blow up. With Firestone, you don’t have that worry and that really puts your mind at ease as a driver and a team owner.
“That’s the biggest thing Firestone brings to the table and they’ve done a fantastic job that way. If IndyCar is getting somebody else I’m just hoping that it’s going to be a quality product. If not, it could be disastrous. It could be very expensive and very dangerous. We don’t want our talent getting hurt.”
On Monday morning we asked IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard for his view of this matter, but by the end of the day he had not replied to our request for a comment.